Page last updated at 20:15 GMT, Thursday, 7 May 2009 21:15 UK

US banks 'safe from insolvency'

US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner
Regulators are taking a close look at the health of US banks

No US bank being screened by regulators is at risk of insolvency, US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has said.

The eagerly awaited results of "stress tests" on the financial health of 19 US banks are to be released after US financial markets close at 2200 BST.

The tests are expected to show that tens of billions of dollars are needed to bolster some banks' finances.

Citigroup and Bank of America are widely expected to need to raise the biggest amounts of cash.

Reports said that Citigroup may need more than $50bn (£33bn), while Bank of America may require an extra $34bn.

Shares in the two firms have rallied ahead of the release of the tests, with Bank of America gaining 6%, and Citigroup adding 5%, as analysts said investors hoped it would mark the final conclusion of their recent financial woes.

A boy gets a ticking off
US banks will now be divided into those who have "passed" the stress tests and those who have "failed" and need to raise new capital. The question is - where will they get it?
Greg Wood, BBC North America business correspondent


Wells Fargo and GMAC, the financial arm of General Motors, may also be required to raise extra cash, with the figure for GMAC being put at $13.1bn, according to the Washington Post.

The New York Times said that the 19 banks will need less than $100bn in total - less than some had feared.

Careful look

US banks are being tested to see if they have sufficient cash reserves to cope should the recession worsen.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said the test was a "truly remarkable effort" that was designed to determine "how much capital the banks need to stay well capitalised and to continue lending".

"This is not a solvency test - all [the banks] are solvent," he added.

He said the 19 banks being tested account for two-thirds of the total assets of the US banking system, and more than half of the total amount of credit in the US economy.

Mr Bernanke's comments echoed those of Mr Geithner made earlier in a television interview with the US's Charlie Rose Show.

A small number, including Bank of America and Citigroup, will be instructed to raise billions of additional capital
BBC business editor Robert Peston

"We brought the nation's financial supervisors together, and in an unprecedented step, asked them to do a careful look under the hood, to take a careful look at how much - how strong these institutions were in the event things got worse," Mr Geithner said.

The results would bring transparency and improve confidence in the banking system, he added.

Mr Geithner said he believed that the majority of the banks would be able to raise money from private sources but if they were unable to do so the government may have to provide them with more taxpayer money.

"None of these 19 banks are at risk for insolvency," he said.

He added that if the government's stakes in any bank were to rise above 30% as a result of extra capital injections, the government would consider taking a more active management role.

"If we face those situations, we'll have to make judgements about whether the quality of leadership of those board is strong enough so that, again, our interest are met best," Mr Geithner said.

Criticism

Some analysts have been critical of the stress tests.

Professor Nouriel Roubini and Professor Matthew Richardson of New York University say that the doomsday scenario that the banks' books have been subjected to is actually no worse than the current economic situation.

And as such "the stress test results will not be credibly interpreted as a sign of of bank health", they wrote in the Financial Times.

Others say that the tests do not take account of the banks' varying business models.



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